WSSC Enlists Technology to Prevent another River Road Main Break

Early on Dec. 15, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) marked the one-year anniversary of the River Road water main break by highlighting the state-of-the-art technology the commission is using to try to prevent future large main breaks.

Last year, a 66-inch water main transporting 150,000 gallons of water a minute burst near the 8500 block of River Road, instantly turning the roadway into a river and trapping several drivers in their cars. Montgomery County (Md.) Fire and Rescue was able to avert the potential. River Road was closed for eight days during repairs.

WSSC General Manager Jerry N. Johnson and Chief Engineer Gary Gumm were joined by Pure Technologies President Mark Holley to explain and demonstrate what WSSC has been doing to help prevent future River Roads through the implementation of its large main inspection program.

The program uses “SmartBall” technology, where a high-tech microphone inserted into large mains to find leaks while they are in service carrying water; visual inspections by staff physically inside the mains; “P-Wave” electromagnetic monitoring to pinpoint weaknesses; and acoustic fiber optic monitoring to warn WSSC of distressed areas well in advance of future breaks.

“Before River Road happened, WSSC was already at work to improve our large main inspection program,” said Johnson. “Today, we are the largest water utility in the nation using a combination of state-of-the-art technologies to both pinpoint current leaks and monitor our mains for future corrosion.”

A total of 21.9 miles of large mains has been equipped with acoustic fiber optic monitoring, with 12.9 additional miles slated for inspection and acoustic fiber optic installation in fiscal year 2010.

“River Road showed what can happen when our largest mains fail,” said Gumm. “With our improved inspection program, we have not only been able to increase the number of miles we are examining but we have also been able to put in place more monitoring for the long-term benefit of our customers.”

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